Kenyan police have recovered 58 bodies, mostly from mass graves in a forest in eastern Kenya, thought to be followers of a Christian cult, led by local pastor Paul Mackenzie, who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves.
The death toll, which has risen several times as a result of excavations, may rise further. According to the Kenya Red Cross, 112 people were reported missing at a search and counseling center set up at a local hospital.
Followers of the self-proclaimed Good News International Church had been living in several secluded settlements in an 800-acre area within the Shakahola forest.
Kenyan Police Inspector General Japhet Koome, who visited the scene, said the death toll included 50 people found in mass graves and eight others who were emaciated alive but later died.
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He added that 29 survivors had been rescued and police were still searching for potential others.
Cult leader Paul Mackenzie was arrested on April 1 after information suggested the existence of a shallow grave containing the remains of at least 31 members. Coome said 14 other cult members are in police custody.
Mackenzie was arraigned on April 15 at Malindi Law Courts, where the judge gave police 14 days to conduct investigations while he was kept in detention. Kenyan media have reported that he is refusing food and water.
Kenya President William Ruto said Mackenzie’s teachings were contrary to any authentic religion.
Mr Mackenzie … pretends and postures as a pastor when in fact he is a terrible criminal,” said Ruto, who was delivering a speech at an unrelated public event just outside Nairobi.He said he had instructed relevant agencies to get to the root cause of what had happened and to tackle “people who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology in the Republic of Kenya that is causing unnecessary loss of life”.